Lloyd, Norwegian Artists Flash Brilliance at Oslo Jazz Fest


Charles Lloyd (foreground) and Harish Raghavan perform at the Oslo Jazz Festival on Aug. 17.

(Photo: Matija Puzar/Courtesy Oslo Jazz Festival)

The fourth night of the 30th Annual Oslo Jazz Festival (Aug. 14–20) centered on a particularly riveting set by headliner Charles Lloyd, who was celebrating a return to a memorable site. The performance marked the 50th anniversary of the saxophonist’s legendary concert, recorded in this city, that became the 1966 album Charles Lloyd Quartet Live In Europe. Then, as now, he was surrounded by 11 Edvard Munch paintings in the historic 500-seat University Aula (Universitetets Aula) on the campus of the University of Oslo.

Lloyd’s ensemble marked the significance of the occasion with a poignant opening salvo. The musicians entered piecemeal, with the first sounds coming from Jason Moran’s piano as he played a slow, searching rubato. Bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland entered and added their own gentle touches.

Soon they were joined by Lloyd, who sauntered across the stage playing his tenor soft and tender. As he strolled, his parched yet warm tones eased the ensemble into a tranquil swing. Moran’s tone lined up with Lloyd’s in this acoustically pristine auditorium, and their matching golf caps were a hip, stylistic augment to an obvious, casual musical sympatico.

The song was Lloyd’s “Prayer,” and the quartet seemed content to keep teasing something out of its sweet melody. The mood was exploratory and probing, with the musicians giving the impression they didn’t quite know where they were heading. The saxophonist took his time moving about the stage as if he was in a fashion show, his sophisticated headgear augmented by sneakers. His chic sunglasses added the finishing touch.

Musical free-play ensued with Lloyd’s “Requiem,” a new tune sporting a flexible meter and shifting key center. Harland’s skittered lightly across his array of cymbals, but he was anchored—as was the rest of the band—by Raghavan’s steady pulse. This is an ensemble with a working band’s sense of empathy.

Eventually, a sense of frenzy erupted in the rhythm section. With Lloyd hot on his heels, Harland’s bass pedal became a central character of expression. With no announcements or casual banter from the stage, the band proceeded into a medium-tempo swinger that provided much-needed sweetness. Moran’s ruminative solo glided into a slow trio groove, with Lloyd eventually adding his own mournful tones. The song became a dirge en route to a slow march, and built to a crescendoing release.

Lloyd switched to flute for an uptempo number that emphasized hand claps and audience participation, with Moran venturing under the lid of his piano on occasion to pluck a few piano funky chords. On the following tune, a swinging waltz with a straightforward melody, Lloyd remained on flute, playing like a latter-day pied piper. The band was in a propulsive mode. Harland took a snare solo that recalled a machine-like Buddy Rich, but with a lot more soul.

The band cooled things off with a take on Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood,” which prompted a standing ovation. Lloyd’s tenor, in particular, resonated through the hall. His sound was full of ornamental swoops as he and the band coaxed the song’s lovely melody ever so gradually, gliding through the music with a gentle samba pulse.

A final number, Lloyd’s “Tagi,” found the members in recitation and rubato mode, playing it soft once again. During his solo, Lloyd clung to one repeated note, evoking the honky-tonk vibe of the early rock ’n’ roll saxophonists.

While there was a great deal of international flair at this festival, the talent displayed by Norwegian artists was certainly substantial. The serenely intense East-meets-West trio blend of Moksha and the free-yet-focused Megalodon Collective—consisting of two drummers, three reedists, electric guitar and bass—channeled Sun Ra at times, Claude Thornhill the next. Then there was bassist Ellen Andrea Wang, whose Songs From Land band featuring pianist Jon Balke (also a solo performer) echoed her playful indie jazz project Pixel (also on the bill).

Other highlights included a meditative concert for piano, saxophone and choir turned in by Tord Gustavsen and Norwegian legend Tore Brunborg; a free-within-boundaries performance by the Fire! Orchestra featuring saxophonist Mats Gustafsson along with 20 members of the Oslo Jazz Festival; and the otherworldly Come Shine trio featuring singer Live Maria Roggen with the KORK Orchestra. The latter offered truly unique interpretations of jazz standards such as “My One And Only Love” and Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.”

The closing act of the festival was a special collection of some of Norway’s top jazz musicians, all of whom contributed compositions to the program. Among those performing were pianist Balke and bassist Wang, along with saxophonist Trygve Seim, trumpeter Matthias Eck and drummer Gard Nilssen. All reflected the ongoing, rich diversity found in the current Norwegian jazz scene.

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